30 Nov 2004

Cook Islands police investigate boat allegedly operating illegally

2:54 pm on 30 November 2004

Police in the Cook Islands are interviewing the crew of a boat escorted back to Rarotonga after it was found allegedly fishing illegally in its waters.

A longline vessel, based in the American Samoan port of Pago Pago, was first spotted by a New Zealand P3 Orion plane during a maritime patrol of the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone, northeast of Suwarrow.

Jeff Scott, a New Zealand navy technical adviser in Rarotonga, says the police patrol boat, Te Tukopa, then accompanied the boat back to port.

He says police are conducting investigations after the longliner was found fishing without a licence.

"At the moment, they're just gathering further evidence and interviewing the crew. They need to get statements from the P3 crew from the Orion and they hope to gather that in the next day or two, and sit down with the owner, and suss out whether there's going to be an out of court settlement or whether to proceed from there, basically."

Under Cook Islands law, the owner of a vessel caught fishing illegally can be fined up to 350,000 U.S. dollars.